13 September 2012

The good side of Stoicism

It is always a personal joy of mine when someone else discovers Stoicism. On a certain level, shared reactions to a certain philosophy carry a certain amount of peer validation: It’s like saying oh, yes, I get you on a deeply resonant level.

Stoicism has helped me through a lot of stressful times in the past two years. I sometimes wish that I had found it during undergraduate as I had found Hellenism because the concepts transcend the usual self-help nonsense. They are practical and applicable to one’s daily life.

I do, however, think that people, myself included, put unnecessary emphasis on what Stoicism says about the bad things in our lives and not enough about the good things.

Right now, I’m coming out of a stressful (but good!) period of transition. I love my job. Hermes and Athênê have led me to great places with it, and I work to constantly remain mindful that what I do professionally serves the Gods as a whole. The feedback I have had so far makes me feel like my efforts to cultivate arête in my professional work are paying off.

More specifically, Athênê’s relationship with wisdom really relates to information literacy in modern society — the idea that we need to develop skills to discern truth from falsehood in the information that is flying at us from so many sources. During instruction, I have mentioned without using any Hellenic terms that we can never objectively identify something. We have opinions, or doxa if we want to use the term from “The English Lexicon of Standard Terminology for Hellenismos” [PDF download], and we apply reason or logos to arrive at opinions that are as correct as we can. We cannot form opinions and apply logic to facts that we don’t have. This is why gathering information and synthesizing it is so important. It makes our initial foundations that much better.

At the same time that I love my job, I know that Stoicism teaches detachment. It isn’t wrong to feel joy at doing a good job, at being in control of one’s own actions and having them influence the world in ways that we approve of, but one must tread carefully.

We don’t know what can happen tomorrow or the day after that, and we cannot attach our own self-worth to something that is not ourselves — be it a job, a spouse, a career path, or a lifestyle. Things outside of us change independently of our Self, and placing self-worth in anything but the things we can control and develop only breeds disaster. When things go wrong, we find ourselves reeling and looking to recover.

And this is the hard part of letting go: Transitioning from thinking of our self-worth as reactive to something that is innate.


Apuleius Platonicus said...

This is a great post! There is so much about Stoicism that is positive, even optimistic and downright life-affirming!

Anonymous said...

Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus changed my life. Great stuff. Thanks for sharing!